The New Yorker
Centered on three English brothers who venture to the American West—one as a missionary, the two others in pursuit when he disappears—this saga encompasses a wide range of characters through alternating narrative voices. In a panorama of late-nineteenth-century Montana and western Canada, Vanderhaeghe details the lawlessness of the early frontier towns and the desperate ferocity of the dying indigenous tribes. He dwells with particular pathos on the children of white traders and Native American women, who are caught between two cultures. The prose can be overripe, particularly in the opening chapters, and moments of historical exposition are clumsily inserted. However, the sweep of the narrative gradually overcomes these missteps, and as the various searches for revenge or redemption get under way the writing achieves unforced grace and power.
The New York Times
The stories, for example, of John Rowand of the Hudson's Bay Company and ''Rowand's Folly'' (his three-story log house, with a gallery and an immense ballroom), of Rowand's bizarre funeral procession back and forth across the Atlantic, his corpse pickled in rum, and of the voyageurs who drank the rum along the way, have little to do with the novel's careful interlocking of narrative pieces but everything to do with a baroque love of history and its freakish incongruities. So we get both a tour guide and a parody of tour guides in the padded-with-arcana middle portion of the book. Epic novels can be loose, baggy monsters, but this one is stuffed with enough goodies to keep us entertained for days. John Vernon
The Washington Post
The Last Crossing is assured and impassioned, brutal and tender, a convincing re-creation of its milieu, a sharp group portrait of its characters. At one point Charles worries that he might be one of those artists who excel at sketching the background only to falter when it's time to add the forefront that gives the painting its reason to be. As a novelist, Guy Vanderhaeghe does justice to it all: distance, closeups and all the shadings in between. Dennis Drabelle
This sweeping epic novel of the search for a lost Englishman in the raw Indian territories of the U.S.-Canadian Western borderlands in the late 19th century was a Canadian bestseller and award-winner last year, but has only just made it here. That's puzzling, for Vanderhaeghe (The Englishman's Boy) is a prodigiously gifted writer who makes the West, its fierce weathers, rugged landscapes and contrary characters come to life in a way comparable to McMurtry at his best. He tells of the disappearance on the prairie of a wealthy and idealistic young Englishman, Simon Gaunt, in the company of a devious missionary who is later found dead. Simon's tyrannical father sends brothers Charles and Addington to see if they can find out what happened to him and if, by chance, he is still alive. The dreamy, artistic Charles and the preening, choleric Addington get together with a Scots-Indian half-breed, Jerry Potts (a real person of the time), as their guide and set out into a wilderness inhabited only by warring Indian tribes and rogue traders selling them whiskey. They are accompanied by Lucy Stoveall, a tough beauty in search of the renegades who raped and murdered her young sister, and Custis Straw, a battered Civil War veteran desperately in love with her. Their adventures are pulse-poundingly exciting and graphic, and if the book has a fault it is that it is almost overstuffed with drama and incident. A pair of brilliant set pieces-Straw's memories of a bloody Civil War battle, and a murderous encounter between warring Indian tribes-are not really essential to the narrative, and the elegiac ending seems oddly off-key. But the book's rewards far transcend these excesses, and no reader once embarked on this hugely involving adventure will be able to stop until it is done. 8-city tour. (Feb.) Forecast: Stressing the book's huge success in Canada and playing up the glowing tributes to Vanderhaeghe from the likes of Richard Ford and Annie Proulx should help alert customers to the arrival here of a major talent far too little known. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
An ambitious sixth outing from the Saskatchewan author who has twice won Canada's Governor General's Award (for Man Descending, 1985, and The Englishman's Boy, 1997). The search for a missing brother adds a mythic dimension to Vanderhaeghe's complex plot, initiated by the mission imposed by wealthy Victorian industrialist Henry Gaunt on his sons Charles, a painter of little accomplishment and no renown, and Addington, a reckless former soldier best remembered for his considerable responsibility for a massacre of Irish "rabble." The brothers are to scour the American and Canadian northwestern territories (the year is 1871) and locate Charles's twin Simon, who has disappeared during his mission accompanying Reverend Obadiah Witherspoon, who means to convert "savages" to Christianity. Once the Gaunts are thus engaged, the author introduces his lusty, raucous other major characters-all, in their own ways, seekers-many of whom function also as narrators. There's fur and whiskey to be traded, land to be seized, and stories to be told, by such wanderers as: Civil War veteran Custis Straw, resourceful American journalist Caleb Ayto, and devious tavernkeeper Aloysius Dooley, plucky Lucy Stoveall, who's determined to avenge the murder of her young sister Madge, and-the story's most haunting character-half-breed guide Jerry Potts (a real historical figure), who crystallizes in his own nature and history the experiences common to them all, of division, alienation, and rootlessness. There's an almost Platonic articulation of divisions and mirrorings thus working among Vanderhaeghe's gallery of opportunists and misfits-who are nevertheless brought unforgettably to life by this consistently surprisingnarrative's deft re-creation of its remote milieu. The novel's expanse is chronological as well, reaching back to the Gaunt twins' youth in which they shared their dreams and sensed their differences, and forward to Charles's later meditations on how his great adventure has altered, as well as validated, his life. Sumptuously imagined and fashioned with a master craftsman's attentiveness and finesse. Brilliant work. First printing of 35,000; author tour. Agent: Dean Cooke/Cooke Agency, Toronto
From the Publisher
“Rarely are today’s hungry readers invited to such a feast of a book.…Here are brilliant writing, picaresque adventure, plot twists, history and studies of human nature. . . . There are few writers who can encapsulate a character in a single sentence, turn a phrase or manipulate a metaphor as brilliantly as Vanderhaeghe.…The Last Crossing deserves honours and the widest readership. Guy Vanderhaeghe, one of North America’s best writers, is at the top of his form.”
–Annie Proulx, Globe and Mail
“The Last Crossing is both a Canadian classic and a rousing adventure.…A tremendous achievement of imagination, capturing the West in all its grandeur. With its intricate layering of stories, constant surprises, unforgettable scenes and characters and dramatic landscape, Vanderhaeghe’s saga is certain to resonate with readers long after they’ve finished the book.”
“A tour de force. Wonderfully written, suspenseful and totally absorbing, this novel must be [Vanderhaeghe’s] most powerful to date. . . . Many voices take up Vanderhaeghe’s twisting tale and its criss-cross pattern is skillfully woven into a chronicle of singular style and impressive power. This book is a remarkable achievement, a page-turner not only of epic proportions but of exceptional literary merit.…A book impossible to set aside.”
–London Free Press
“The Last Crossing is truly Vanderhaeghe’s masterpiece.…The variety of voices, settings and action evokes an almost inebriated response from the reader whose imagination is sparked to overflowing by such abundance.…Vanderhaeghe’s ability to hold in his imagination all of these characters and all of this vast narrative with its complexity of tensions and intensity of meaning, is testament to the creative genius of this writer and his passionate commitment to his craft.”
–Books in Canada
“The Last Crossing is an enormously rich and complex work, spanning time and place. It is an amazingly good story, and it both creates and satisfies a profound emotional need in readers. Thank you, Guy Vanderhaeghe.”
“The Last Crossing is Vanderhaeghe’s masterpiece.…The novel is so consistently vivid, the storytelling so magnificent.…What Vanderhaeghe is responding to, what he is writing about – albeit in a story that takes place more than a hundred years ago – is very much our present.…The Last Crossing is also a terrific entertainment. . . . In Vanderhaeghe’s book something approaching perfection is achieved. Scene follows scene described with such dexterity and skill that I was left, time and again, astonished.…Here is a story that you can hear, see, smell, as you read it. The Last Crossing is a novel with a broad canvas, but of intimately handled physical detail. The suspense is unflagging, its several voices distinct. Not once does Vanderhaeghe put a foot wrong.”
–Noah Richer, National Post
“[A] brilliant new novel.…The Last Crossing is one of those rarities: a page-turner that also bears the graceful prose and layered meanings of great literature.”
“The best Canadian book I’ve read this year is Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Last Crossing.…Vanderhaeghe’s is an epic novel, but without the sometimes baggy sprawl the use of that word can connote; he maintains almost pitch-perfect control over five distinct narrative voices. If ‘excellence’ means anything, this novel is excellent.”
–Martin Levin, Globe and Mail
“The most astounding, unforgettable, literary journey ever penned in Canada about the 19th-century prairie.…The Last Crossing is a tale of lust, murder, revenge, shock and survival. But this is no pulp fiction. It is an arresting work of art more in the vein of Leo Tolstoy or Charles Dickens.…Each character is crafted with the care and precision of a Michelangelo sculpture. The plot grabs you in such a fierce, determined way that it is impossible, once started, to set the book aside.…In the end, The Last Crossing is nothing less than the first great novel about Canada’s Old West.”
“The Last Crossing is an absolutely wonderful book, the kind of literature that reminds other writers of why they want to create, and convinces readers the world is a vast and mythic enterprise, larger than our individual crises or triumphs.…[Vanderhaeghe crosses] histories, borders and story lines with remarkable virtuosity.…It is a joy to read, to go through this wild world with a writer who has fully stretched out over a landscape big enough to accommodate his stride.”
“When he arms his characters with speech – internal or external, uttered or unuttered – the reader feels the pulse of life.…The strongest and strangest and most compelling of Vanderhaeghe’s novels.”
“There’s no putting the book down.…Masterful.”
“The Last Crosssing’s epic sweep, historical scope, unforgettable characters, thematic complexity, compelling narrative and mythic underpinnings make it a hugely satisfying read. It is a novel of staggering literary achievement and immense emotional power that brings Canadian history to life.”
“With a sharp eye, Vanderhaeghe creates scenes that are unforgettable.…The Last Crossing is his masterpiece.”
–Halifax Daily News
“Brilliant and engaging.…”
Read an Excerpt
Set in the second half of the nineteenth century, in the American and Canadian West and in Victorian England, The Last Crossing is a sweeping tale of interwoven lives and stories
Charles and Addington Gaunt must find their brother Simon, who has gone missing in the wilds of the American West. Charles, a disillusioned artist, and Addington, a disgraced military captain, enlist the services of a guide to lead them on their journey across a difficult and unknown landscape. This is the enigmatic Jerry Potts, half Blackfoot, half Scottish, who suffers his own painful past. The party grows to include Caleb Ayto, a sycophantic American journalist, and Lucy Stoveall, a wise and beautiful woman who travels in the hope of avenging her sister’s vicious murder. Later, the group is joined by Custis Straw, a Civil War veteran searching for salvation, and Custis’s friend and protector Aloysius Dooley, a saloon-keeper. This unlikely posse becomes entangled in an unfolding drama that forces each person to come to terms with his own demons.
The Last Crossing contains many haunting scenes – among them, a bear hunt at dawn, the meeting of a Métis caravan, the discovery of an Indian village decimated by smallpox, a sharpshooter’s devastating annihilation of his prey, a young boy’s last memory of his mother. Vanderhaeghe links the hallowed colleges of Oxford and the pleasure houses of London to the treacherous Montana plains; and the rough trading posts of the Canadian wilderness to the heart of Indian folklore. At the novel’s centre is an unusual and moving love story.
The Last Crossing is Guy Vanderhaeghe’s most powerfulnovel to date. It is a novel of harshness and redemption, an epic masterpiece, rich with unforgettable characters and vividly described events, that solidifies his place as one of Canada’s premier storytellers.
Author Biography: Guy Vanderhaeghe was born in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan in 1951. He is the author of six books of fiction. His first two books were collections of short stories: Man Descending (1982), which won the Governor’s General’s Award, and the Faber Prize in the U.K., and The Trouble With Heroes (1983). My Present Age, a novel, was published in 1984 and was followed by Homesick in 1989. That novel was a co-winner of the City of Toronto Book Award. His third book of short stories was the highly praised Things As They Are? (1992). The Englishman’s Boy (1996) was a long-time national bestseller and won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction and for Best Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for The Giller Prize, and the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the world’s largest monetary award for a single book.
Acclaimed for his fiction, Vanderhaeghe has also written plays. I Had a Job I Liked. Once. was first produced in 1991, and won the Canadian Authors Association Award for Drama. His second play, Dancock’s Dance, was produced in 1995. He is currently completing a screenplay for The Englishman’s Boy.
Guy Vanderhaeghe lives in Saskatoon, where he is a Visiting Professor of English at S.T.M. College.